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Two sides of joint memorial debate air their positions at City Hall
Critics of a joint American-Vietnamese Memorial in Veterans Memorial Park insist they have nothing against one going up somewhere else in Auburn.
Just not in the Auburn park, where a memorial to the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces already exists.
And where, they argue, the flag of any other nation, even a flag of a nation that hasn't existed since 1975, should never fly.
Organizers of the joint memorial, on the other hand, say that putting it in Veterans Memorial Park would go a long way toward healing war wounds still open and raw.
Passions on both sides of the debate run high at the moment in Auburn, as subcommittees of the City Council prepare to work the issue over on its way to a final decision later this year by the full council.
But for almost an hour and a half Monday night, before a Council Chamber full of veterans, the yeahs and the nays did something more and more rare these days — listened with respect, and without a single hard word, to the things people with whom disagreed with to the point of shedding tears had to say.
Twenty-five members of VFW Post 1741 in Auburn voted June 25 on whether to support the joint memorial in Veterans Memorial Park, said Frank Bannister, a member of the post, noting that all but one said no.
"We believe there should be no private memorials on any public property whatsoever," Bannister said. "Such a memorial will drive many veterans from Memorial Park."
He went on to name alternative actions organizers of the memorial could perform if they really want to thank Vietnam veterans. Among these were: visit the park on Veterans and Memorial days and wave American flags; pledge allegiance to the flag; thank veterans for their service; work with the Boy Scouts who place flags on veterans' graves; help homeless veterans in South King County; and provide rides to veterans who need transportation to medical appointments.
"All of these things will truly be appreciated by every veteran in this community and help them heal the wounds, through the practice of American patriotism," Bannister said.
Thomas Taylor, who served in Vietnam from March 1970 to March 1971, recalled embittering run-ins with regular South Vietnamese Army troops. Some of them, he said, stole equipment from gun trucks. Others threw down their rifles and ran away in the heat of battle, he said, "putting my people in harm's way.
"I support their desire to have a memorial, but I don't believe that Auburn Memorial Park is the correct place for them," Taylor said.
Lacey resident and Vietnam veteran Thom Stoddert, who helped bring to Auburn the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall and is a freelance writer on veterans affairs, described his more positive experiences with South Vietnamese soldiers.
"My unit in Vietnam was constantly protected and rescued by Vietnamese rangers. One guy in my platoon got the Medal of Honor," said Stoddert, who supports the joint memorial.
Roger Olson, past commander and chaplain of Auburn Post 78 American Legion, recalled that he had worked with memorial organizers in the beginning of their drive to pare their memorial to scale, but added that he later struggled with the issue.
"In talking with fellow veterans from throughout the region, we are not in favor of having something from outside our country — as far as a veterans group — having a memorial in our memorial park.
"I have no problem with it being at another park, but this park was dedicated to American veterans," Olson added. "If you go to Washington D.C., or Olympia, there's a memorial there for the Korean War, and the South Koreans, they go to that memorial."
Vietnam veteran Richard Wright described the bitter realities of a war lost and the lingering pain felt by veterans who were "treated like losers" upon their return to the United States.
"Putting another flag up there, it's not healing. That's 40 years of misery and memories. Not good," Wright said.
Memorial supporter Lan Phan Jones introduced herself as the daughter of a South Vietnamese soldier who fought for his native country his whole life.
"I am very proud of him for what he did for the country, although we lost the country, and America lost the war. I worked with a lot of American Vietnam veterans. They were so sad, they had a bad feeling about how the government and Americans treated them when they came back home. I know how the Vietnam veterans feel when we lost the country. So that's why I would like to do something to make them feel better," Jones said.